Technology Insights

Technology is transforming society and having an impact on every aspect of our daily lives, reshaping businesses, markets and entire economies.

Our insights into technology are listed below in the form of articles and interviews with founders and senior executives for your perusal.

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Shehzad Daredia: The Innovation Interview

Shehzad Daredia, Co-Founder & CEO of bop.fm shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the music industry.

Bop.fm is a Y Combinator backed music technology company that creates a home for every song on the internet. Before co-founding bop.fm, Shehzad was an early employee at KAYAK.com (acquired by Priceline) and BillShrink/Truaxis (acquired by MasterCard), as well as a venture capitalist at Rho Ventures. Shehzad graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in business and engineering.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation comes down to making new connections to improve someone’s life. “New” is relative, however. Many of the best ideas are borrowed from other industries and disciplines and applied intelligently to new applications. Bop.fm’s platform builds upon pre-existing music services and integrates them into a cohesive digital music experience, much like what KAYAK.com did for online travel and Progressive did for auto insurance. Service-agnostic media platforms already exist – we just brought them to an industry that didn’t have one yet but sorely needed it.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The Government. Naturally, it’s easier to remain complacent than to risk disrupting key services for constituents. Even worse, when bureaucrats attempt risk, critics become vultures, like we saw with the Affordable Care Act. I see two solutions:

1. Further incentivizing innovation through increased transparency and metrics of each Politician and bureaucracy.

2. Ensuring quality execution by partnering with private sector experts like Bay Area startups.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

“Balance and moderation are key to a healthy and fulfilling life” — Dilshad Daredia, my mom.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Assembling an incredibly talented yet modest team that is collectively motivated to revolutionize the way we discover and share music, while still being a joy to work with everyday.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital! Even though I grew up doodling in my books, you can’t beat digital’s accessibility and enormous catalog. Also, I try to be green when possible.

Why did you start bop.fm?

We started bop.fm because we were frustrated with how difficult it was to share our favorite tracks and playlists with our friends. If we shared a Spotify link, all our friends who didn’t use Spotify would see a “create a Spotify account” image instead of being able to listen to the playlist.

They wouldn’t be able to play a single second of that song without being forced to sign up and download Spotify. If we shared a YouTube link, it might not be available in their country, or it might go down before they’re able to stream the song.

We also did not enjoy switching between multiple different applications to listen to all our music: Spotify for regular listening, iTunes for stuff that was not always available on Spotify (The Beatles, Adele, Coldplay, The Black Keys, Taylor Swift, etc), YouTube and SoundCloud for brand new releases, Pandora for discovery (but you can not add Pandora songs to a playlist). There had to be a better way.

What was your greatest takeaway from Y Combinator and how has this association benefited bop.fm?

YC created a pressure cooker atmosphere that heavily emphasized a singular focus towards a quantifiable objective. Our metric of choice was song plays – we started the 3-month program with a goal of working feverishly to reach 10,000 total song plays by Demo Day. We ended up doing 100,000 song plays — per day. Blowing our original goal out of the water is what helped us secure investment and build a team of rockstars.

As consumer habits change and society moves towards a fully integrated mobile / wearable environment, how do envison bop.fm growing and adapdting to these new consumer trends and habits?

One of the reasons we started bop.fm was to allow users to finally own their fully-portable song library and playlist data without fear of how music will change medium over time. Digital music is shifting from an ownership model (iTunes) to a rental model (on-demand streaming). Even though users will cease to own their music, they can still feel like they own their data in a way that is decoupled from an underlying music service or medium. I look forward to bop.fm’s Oculus Rift app.

After attending and graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, how has your thought process changed as it relates to a global perspective and how to scale a company in a global economy?

Gone are the days when we think about our own backyard exclusively while launching a technology company. The internet has transformed distribution models such that an entrepreneur will leave a lot of opportunity on the table if they do not think about the global perspective from day one. That’s why bop.fm was conceived with a global audience in mind.

Through our partnership with Deezer and our “intelligent permalink” architecture, even users in countries like Germany, Japan, and Canada, which don’t have access to the same music services that we do in the US, can easily access bop.fm and share music across borders. We already get a significant portion of our traffic from outside the US, despite little to no dedicated marketing efforts in those countries.

What is the future of the music business and how will you position bop.fm for an ever-changing industry?

Some people think music will become free, distributed solely to market a band’s live shows and merchandise. Some people think on-demand streaming is the wave of the future (we do too). A few people think Spotify will take over the world, but most believe that the industry’s fragmentation will continue and even accelerate. We can’t tell the future, but we do believe we’re well positioned to evolve nimbly with the changing tides of digital music.

Will Mayo: The Innovation Interview

Will Mayo, Founder and CEO of SpokenLayer shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and audio communications.

Will’s passion for audio finds its origins in a childhood solution: born dyslexic, Will overcame his barrier to written information by absorbing books as read and recorded by his father, Geoff. Inspired by this experience, and intimately understanding the power of the human voice, Will started working on SpokenLayer after graduating from college, hoping to make the world’s largest body of written information – the Internet – more accessible to as many people as possible.

Will is a graduate of Lehigh University, where he earned his BA in Electrical Engineering and MA in Computer Engineering with a concentration in Ergonomic Product Design. He has worked professionally at Intel, where he designed server processor internals, and Goldman Sachs, where he produced new visualization and analysis technologies for traders on the floor of the NYSE.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

To me, innovation is the seemingly simple process of tackling a problem in a completely new way. To some extent, it’s about taking things that are separate and combining them to produce something greater. It’s also a sensibility – the perspective of working in the service of something better and bigger than myself.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Frankly, innovation should be at the forefront of every industry’s minds. Nothing truly valuable or meaningful can be gained if you’re never challenging yourself at any given point of time. This is a philosophy that I’ve accepted as central to my life, and I believe it should be equally central to my company and to every industry out there.

The world moves really fast. We need to be brave to maneuver it. There’s nothing as powerful and as growing as being happily uncomfortable. Innovation comes from taking risks and intentionally putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Don’t be afraid to fail. From failure comes growth and change.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

“Feedback is a gift, not a demand for change.” That’s a consistent message from Corey Ford, who runs Matter.vc and has been an amazing mentor to me. It’s pushed me to maintain an open and transparent culture and one that feeds on creating great honest relationships.

“Innovation happens outside the comfort zone. So get uncomfortable.” I don’t remember where I got that from specifically, but it’s a life lesson that has stuck with me for a long time.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

A big achievement for me was writing a successful 150-page Master’s thesis despite having a learning disability.

For context: I’m dyslexic, and I was at a 3rd grade reading level when I was entering 6th grade — so I’ve fought hard to get where I am today. I learned a lot on that journey that can benefit way more than just me, and I’m working to replicate the lessons I’ve learned on a much wider level with media, education, music, and technology.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital. We’re all heading in that direction. I wouldn’t have created SpokenLayer if I didn’t believe that the future of the written word is digital.

That said, there’s always a place for physical publications. But it’s more niche – more art-house than commercial. And the two can definitely play together.

Take Newsweek: they recently revived their print magazine to complement their digital operations, but I think the real consumer focus is going to be rooted firmly in their online presence.

What was the inspiration for SpokenLayer and why did you decide to build it now?

Bedtime stories! My dad was on the road a lot when I was growing up, he was a TV director. Because of that, he couldn’t always read to me at night. So when he traveled, he would carry books, cassettes, and a boombox with him, recording stories in hotel rooms and using a teaspoon and a teacup to indicate the turning of a page. That way, not only could he still read to me every night, but it started my relationship with technology as way to support intimate storytelling.

I decided to build it now because, up until this point, the technology just wasn’t there. But now, because of the proliferation of crowdsourcing and the availability of cloud computing for distribution and scaling, we have the necessary infrastructure to build out the product. Beyond that, there’s also a huge demand for audio now. We are increasingly shifting into mobile as tech consumers, and we’re working to meet that growing user behavior.

As consumers start to adopt wearable technologies and the screen shrinks, there becomes an inherent need for audio content. How are you working with publishers to take advantage of this trend, and what are consumers saying about the new format?

At SpokenLayer, we’re all about data, and we’re all about being attentive to user behavior. So with publishers, it’s really important that we work closely with them to figure out how consumers are reacting to audio and in what way, and then optimize for it.

Consumers have been taking it well. We’re seeing a steady increase in activity and engagement, and we’re really excited about where this goes.

Are you currently working with any publishers to integrate your API into their apps? If so, what types of experiences have these publishers been creating and what have the engagement rates been?

Publishers will be integrating our platform into their experience, and we’ll be working hard to help them take advantage of our platform and leverage audio effectively. We haven’t yet launched powering native mobile apps yet so we don’t have engagement rates.

Since listening to a radio is big part of spending time in the car, how do you envision the connected car evolving and what role will SpokenLayer play in creating unique fulfilling experiences for drivers?

The Connected Car is inevitable. The entire user experience of a driver being in a car is largely mediated by a digital interface – the key is to figure out what the common language between the car’s digital ecosystem and the human occupants is going to be, the same way that we figured out that the most effective way to navigate the Internet is through a browser.

Sticking to that motif of a common language, I firmly believe SpokenLayer is going to play a huge part in how the Internet communicates to the driver and passengers through the connected car.

How are you planning to scale SpokenLayer?

One of the main drivers for us to scale up is to partner with strong content providers and leverage their audiences towards audio consumption. Another way is to connect the community of audio-centric audiences with those content providers.

Paul Berry: The Innovation Interview

Paul Berry, Founder and CEO of RebelMouse shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and RebelMouse.

Paul is also an advisor to Lerer Ventures and serves on the Digital Advisory Board of American Express. Previously, he was CTO of HuffingtonPost where he ran product, design and engineering from year 1 to a year after the acquisition of the company by AOL. Before HuffingtonPost Paul was Vice President at Related Capital which was a real estate finance company that went public with a market cap of 3+ billion. He started his career building the internet business for Palo Alto Software which creates business plan software for entrepreneurs and has been a regular judge and speaker at the annual Princeton Business Plan competition.

He is married with 3 kids and lives in Tribeca, Manhattan. You can find him at rebelmouse.com/paul.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is executing something real in a different way than has ever worked before. I emphasize execution because I believe ideas are all in the ether, and nothing under the sun is completely original. But how you put things together, for what purpose and how it is used, amplified and impacts the people it reaches has the potential to be completely unique. Real innovation has impact, so you could say that I believe a tree that falls where no one can hear it didn’t make any noise.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

History is accelerating. The innovator’s dilemma is going to be turned into a law instead of a theory. The executives and employees at large companies who are smart but take risks are getting rewarded. At RebelMouse we are seeing people embrace change in the most surprising industries. Software is eating the world – if you love this change you’ll love this world and if you hate it the world will be a terrible place to live in. I’m not versed in any of the industries which need to fear innovation and take less risk though I’m sure they must exist.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Jonah Peretti taught me the art of saying “Yes, and” instead of “No, but” – I think he was impacted by his sister Chelsea Peretti who is a comedian. It has had a profound impact on nearly every day or week of my life, not only in how I run RebelMouse but also as a father (of three) and a husband, brother and son. The art is not just to cave, but to help elevate ideas through positive improv.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Being an active dad. I have 3 kids and nothing brings me more delight and perspective in life. I am sure that my career would be tiny without them lifting me up. After that, having taken RebelMouse from an idea to reaching 20 million monthly uniques, a team of 50 and fast growing revenue probably has to win. But I am much more happy to be on a journey then reach having reached any particular destination.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

100% digital. Most days I spend an hour reading to the kids and its always on a kindle. I love nature and I can’t understand any more why the forests are worth dropping for a nostalgic feeling.

What was your greatest takeaway from growing up in Mexico?

I always thought that having spanish as my first language would be vital, and i would have a career that required being bilingual. But in reality what was vital was understanding different cultures. For the last 15 years I’ve been working with brilliant developers, designers, editors and such to build best in class teams and I would never have been able to do that if I hadn’t learned since I was young to be close to people who were far away. And that tamarindo mixed with chile is delicious.

Why did you decide to build RebelMouse now?

The timing was and is just perfect. Everyone’s struggling to be a great publisher, trying to weave together all these different technologies and discovering how hard and frustrating it can be. The open web needs to get dramatically better at a shocking speed and I believe that’s exactly what we’re helping everyone do with RebelMouse. Mobile sites, apps and desktop experiences need to be social, real time, data driven and easy. Its really hard to do so its a big barrier to entry and why we have 30+ of the best developers I’ve ever worked with working around the clock across the globe.

How did you convince large brands such as GE to actively embrace RebelMouse as platform?

Happily enough its mostly just showing them what we can do. We are addressing problems companies know they have, and creating opportunities they know they want. Then we obsess on performance of everything we launch so that we become a core part of their business and have truly wonderful relationships.

As an Advisor to American Express Open, what has American Express taught you and what insights have you shared with American Express?

Massive companies are humbled by the last 10 years. They are filled with smart, highly energetic people that I love. They are learning how to get out of their own way and work with great companies and people to learn and iterate at a pace faster than their core infrastructure allows. And that Susan Sobbott is a tremendously smart human being who has put together a killer team.

As consumer habits shift and we move towards a wearable society and then to the living room, how are you planning to positioning RebelMouse to benefit from these trends?

RebelMouse is built from the ground up to anticipate and adapt to the acceleration of history. We are flexible, fast, dynamic and help content creators reach every meaningful platform in really significant ways. Its such an exciting time.

Patrick Jackson: The Innovation Interview

Patrick Jackson, Google Glass Explorer and Rocky Mount Fire Department Firefighter shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and Google Glass.

Patrick was born near Winston Salem, North Carolina, in 1979 and is 34 years old. He lived there through high school before attending college first at NC State (for one year) and then finishing at UNC-Asheville. He studied a bit of computer engineering his first year at college, but then had a change of heart and wanted to do something related to the environment. He got his degree in Environmental Management and Policy from UNC-Asheville in 2003. He also met his wife in college and then they got married a few years after graduation. She’s an elementary school teacher and they have two small children.

After college, Patrick applied to the fire service in Asheville, Winston Salem, Raleigh and Rocky Mount where he was accepted in 2006. He hadn’t been playing around with computers since 2000 but he then got an Android phone which reignited his interest in developing. He made an android app called “FirefighterLog” and integrated that with the fire department’s dispatch system. They’ve been using that for over 2 years now in Rocky Mount and other firefighters have downloaded it for their units in cities and states across the US.

Patrick sees the massive potential for fire service technologies to develop on mobile devices because the existing technology was in binders or books initially and then on laptops in the fire trucks. These laptops were expensive and the software costs several thousand dollars each. In contrast, a tablet can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and apps like “FirefighterLog” are inexpensive so they bring the cost to the fire department down significantly, which means it gets to a lot more people.

Patrick heard about Google Glass when he was watching the 2012 Google I/O keynote where Sergey Brin debuted Glass via the skydiving demo. Patrick immediately started thinking about using Glass in the fire service. He submitted his idea through G+ as part of the #ifihadglass competition and was chosen. He didn’t have the cash for Glass at the time so he launched an indiegogo campaign and raised $2K (mainly from other firefighters who’d already downloaded his Android “firefighter log” app) to help him pay for it.

Patrick picked up Glass at the NYC Basecamp in September (his first trip to the Big Apple) but before he even had Glass, he was able to integrate the firefighter call line directly into Glass using the Mirror API. “I programmed for Glass without touching the device. I hadn’t even seen it and I built the Glassware for it.” (Note how easy it is to build on Glass or how smart Patrick is!) Once he got Glass, he was able to activate his Glassware on it and began expanding the technology using both the mirror API and GDK.

At the Rocky Mount Fire Department, all incoming calls come directly to Patrick’s Glass device. He then uses Glass to lead his unit to the emergency location and locate the nearest fire hydrant while en route. This saves valuable time and in his business, every second counts. Patrick is currently developing Glassware that will allow him to look up location information and get floor plans for different buildings; either by saying the address or just looking at the building. He’s also integrating car diagrams in the case of an emergency situation where the fire department needs to cut through part of the car, they can easily find the best access point. All of this would happen hands free via voice commands and very, very quickly.

On the side, Patrick is working on a CPR assist app for Glass that could help figure out the pace at which to provide CPR, and measure how fast your compressions are (and whether you need to speed up or slow down). He’s working with a start-up called team (evermed) on this effort, during his days off from the fire department.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is doing something that has not been done before. I see innovation as iterative in nature. People who are innovative are really building off the work of people before them, contributing to push what is possible forward.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

My industry (fire service) is a good example. Four years ago when I started working on mobile and cloud technology in the fire service there was not many other people doing it, especially the big vendors. Same is still true today, but there are some companies coming on board and adoption with fire departments. Fire service seems to have a tendency to lag behind in some areas of technology. Mobile and cloud technology has the potential to disrupt this space.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

If you know you have a good idea, stick with it and don’t let other people sway you.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Marrying my wife, Cherry Jackson. She is an amazing woman, mother, and educator.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital, especially for news. News is near instant today and online news can be highly customized. I use Pulse, Google Newsstand, etc to get news on topics I am interested in and have it available anytime. Physical is still best for reading novels.

Why did you want to become a firefighter and where did your interest in Google Glass begin?

I’ve always wanted to help people and the community at large in some way. Being a firefighter does that and has excitement and a physical aspect that really attracted me. Firefighters really do have a brotherhood/sisterhood that is remarkable. I don’t know of anything else like it.

When I saw Google’s presentation of Google Glass at Google I/O 2012 where they had skydivers jumping from a blimp streaming POV video, I immediately started thinking of applications for the fire service.

How will Google Glass along with your firefighting glassware app change the way firefighters help save lives?

My goal is to provide all the information that is available for the given emergency quickly, easily, and hands free. You could call it ‘smart’ firefighting to fit in with the trend of ‘smart’ apps. It can change how firefighters respond by decreasing response time and having better situational awareness.

As your FirefighterLog glassware app gains recognition and becomes a tool that empowers firefighters, how do you plan to scale the app to multiple firehouses and districts around the country?

Google App Engine. It is an amazing platform and can scale from one server to hundreds in a few minutes, and is highly dependable. App Engine could easily handle the app for every fire department in the world, so I am not so concerned about capability on that side of things. I’m working on integration tools and management interface to allow Fire Department’s to connect with the system without too much friction.

What has the response to Google Glass and the FirefighterLog glassware app been from your fellow firefighters?

Usually the response is ‘Wow, I can see a lot of great uses for this.’ Some people don’t get it or think it is crazy, but for the most part it has been positive.

How do you envision the wearables market evolving and what new technologies do you think will help firefighters fight fires and respond to medical calls?

Glass and similar products will provide a lot of applications for the field, but the price has got to come down. Sharing video with doctors from the field, access protocols, drug info, patient records are things that can aid medics response. Smartwatches also are a big potential in improving medical calls by providing hands free information and applications.

Driving with Google Glass

The biggest advantage to driving with Google Glass is navigation.

Driving with Google Glass is an experience where you are focused on the road and not on your smartphone or navigation in the center console. By design, Google Glass encourages you to keep your eyes on the road as you are not distracted by a text, email or smartphone call as new messages and incoming calls are clearly displayed in a non-obtrusive way.

The biggest advantage to driving with Google Glass is navigation. When you are driving and actively using Google Maps for directions it is one of the most non-intrusive helpful experiences you can have while driving without being distracted.

Our trepidation when it comes to Google Glass and driving is that Politicians will work to pass bills that ban using Google Glass while driving without truly understanding the benefits of driving with Glass.

If you are a Politician who is thinking about banning Google Glass while driving, we encourage you try Google Glass for a few days and then hop behind the wheel and say “Ok Glass” and marvel in the simplicity and beauty of Google Glass.